Shattered Glass, a drama based on the web of lies spun by disgraced New Republic reporter Stephen Glass, started out as a very different film.
"I thought there was an opportunity here for a satire," says writer-director Billy Ray, hired by HBO Films to write and direct the movie, working off an article that first appeared in Vanity Fair. "I thought, this could be like Network."
But pretty soon, Ray stopped seeing the humor in what Glass had done - not so much because of any crimes against journalism, of which the once-respected writer, who fabricated all or part of dozens of stories, was certainly guilty. Rather, it was the damage done on a smaller, more intimate scale that bothered Ray.
"The damage he did to the credibility of journalism at large is obvious, you don't need to make a movie about that," Ray, 40, says over the phone from his Los Angeles home. "It was the damage to the people around him.
"Every time that Stephen Glass asked one of his best friends to rewrite one of his articles, he was, in effect, making those friends accomplices in this huge fraud. He left a lot of wounds at that magazine."
Shattered Glass, released on DVD late last month, garnered mostly positive reviews, and even earned a Best Feature nomination at this year's Independent Spirit Awards, held annually to honor films done outside the mainstream (it lost to Lost In Translation).
"The Spirit Awards, yeah, that was a good day," acknowledges Ray, who nevertheless has some regrets about the 2003 award season. "I really wish that Peter Sarsgaard had gotten nominated for an Academy Award. I think he deserved it."
Sarsgaard played Chuck Lane, the newly appointed New Republic editor given the unenviable task of, first, uncovering the extent of Glass' deceit, and then struggling to salvage the magazine's reputation in the wake of the resulting scandal.
But while Sarsgaard's performance may have stood out, the rest of the cast were no slouches, either: Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson, Steve Zahn, Hank Azaria. The movie even had Hayden Christensen, taking a break from his stint as Anakin Skywalker in the continuing Star Wars saga, playing Glass.
Ray says he's never spoken with Glass ("I tried, but he wouldn't talk to me") and has no interest in reading his book ("I've read enough Stephen Glass fiction for one lifetime"). And while he admits to having an opinion about what Glass did, he tried not to use the film as a soapbox.
"I tried as hard as I possibly could to keep those feelings out of the movie," he says.